Six years after incarceration at the Kirikiri Medium Prison for allegedly stealing a mobile phone and N650, Saliu Alowonle, a 26-year-old carpenter, was on Wednesday set free by an Ikeja High Court.
Reports indicate that Alowonle, who was 20 years old when the offence was committed, had been languishing in prison since May 19, 2012.
He was set free following a plea bargain with the State in which the initial charge of armed robbery was commuted to a charge of stealing.
While setting Alowonle free, Justice Josephine Oyefeso said: “In view of the plea of the defendant to the amended information dated April 12 and taking note of the facts set out by the prosecuting counsel, I hereby find the defendant guilty of the offence of stealing.
“I hereby convict Saliu Alowonle of the one-count charge. In passing my sentence, I have considered very carefully the allocutus of the learned defence counsel and the fact that by entering into a plea bargain, he has avoided placing an additional burden on the court and saved precious judicial time.
I pray that the defendant has learned his lesson, I note that the prosecution and defence have agreed on a sentence of three years starting from the date of his arrest and custody May 19, 2012.
I am satisfied that the sentence agreed meets the points of justice in this case and I will abide by the agreements of parties. I hereby sentence you Saliu Alowonle to three years imprisonment, your sentence shall as provided by Section 315 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law take effect from the date of your remand in custody.
Consequently in view of the fact that you have spent more time in custody than the applicable sentence, you have to be released promptly.”
He had pleaded not guilty to the charge. The case was set down for trial on the Dec. 15, 2016 and the case was adjourned on seven different occasions for Alowonle to explore the possibility of a plea bargain.
On the May 7 when the case came up for hearing, Alowonle through his counsel, Mrs Scholastica Nwogu, informed the court that he had made a successful application for a plea bargain through the Attorney-General of Lagos State.
He was subsequently re-arraigned and pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing contrary to Section 287 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.
The lead prosecution counsel, Mrs C. K. Tunji-Carrena, said the case got to the courtroom as a result of a disagreement between Alowonle and his friend.
“They were both returning from a burial ceremony and a misunderstanding ensued between them.The defendant used a knife to threaten the victim and collected the victim’s phone and N650,” Tunji-Carrena said.
Following Alowonle’s guilty plea, Nwogu, in her allocutus, had asked the court to temper justice with mercy.
“He is a young man in his prime and he is very remorseful and has been in custody for six years,” said the defense counsel.